Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 142

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Chapter 142

I’ve got my Crusading shirt on, the CMC emblem sewed onto the front like an advertisement logo, and head off for the Acres. I just hope Clark doesn’t run into AJ. I don’t know why he rubs her the wrong way, but I’d hate for her to become a problem. Ah well, the clubhouse is pretty far away from the main orchard, so it’s unlikely they’d meet.

As expected, I meet Clark, who looks at my change of attire with a bit of confusion. “You’ll see what it means in a sec.”

Just before we get to the orchards, I lead him down the barely-visible trail towards the clubhouse. When we get to the little clearing, I step up to the door and knock.

We’re greeted by a trio of fillies, only Scootaloo being absent. Applebloom tells me that she’ll be there soon, with snacks. After Clark and I squeeze into the clubhouse, Clark gets to curl up in the corner, too tall to simply sit up straight. Noi comes over, and sits next to him, which seems to make him distinctly uncomfortable.

I pick up a filly of my own, Sweetie being the closest and I start petting her, and she starts making adorable murmuring noises. “So, I guess when Scoots gets here, we can all get proper introductions out of the way and you can all meet Clark properly.”

Sure enough, the little orange daredevil shows up, dragging in a sack of various snacks by her teeth. Pastries, most of them looking a touch stale, chips, also less than fresh, and several large canteen-style water bottles, presumably filled with water.

“Hey guys, I got all of this on a super-cheap discount from Pinkie. They’re leftovers from her party last night, but it’s the most I could get for our bits.” She smiles around, until she spies me petting Sweetie. She starts going Scootakoosh again, but looks a bit annoyed by something.

“So, I guess now that everyone is here, we can start. Everyone, this is my best friend, Clark. He arrived not long ago as you are all aware, and I figured you should all meet him.”

The four all chorus ‘hello’ at him, and he smiles awkwardly. Noi continues to try snuggling with the side of his leg, as he’s so big she’s only the size of his thigh. Applebloom has taken over my side, leaving Scootaloo looking indecisive in the middle of the room.

“So I guess we begin introductions. Though I guess you could explain the idea of the Crusaders to him, first.”

With a deep breath, the four launch into an explanation of their goal, plans, and strategy. Clark, for his part, looks a combination of amused, relieved, and still rather uncomfortable.

“...and that’s our mission!” Applebloom finishes. “Ooh, now we have to think up some new ideas!”

I chuckle. “Sure, but just remember, we don’t want to do anything too dangerous. Or messy. The last time you all got covered in tree sap, I couldn’t pull any of you away from the others!”

Scootaloo rolls her eyes. “How were we supposed to know making maple syrup could get so sticky? Besides, we didn’t mean to fall in.”

“Maple syrup is extremely sticky, even from the beginning. It’s full of sugar and water, which forms a syrup when dried.” Clark says, barely getting Sweetie’s attention. Scoots is too busy continuing her ‘why it’s not our fault’ speech.

“Alright, alright, we’ve all made or points. Now, aside from the fact that Clark and I are human and therefore will never get a Cutie Mark no matter what, what are we gonna do today?”

“Well...” Applebloom says, “Big Sis was bein’ kinda mean to ya, mister Clark. maybe we could play some games, so we don’t get in Sis’s way? She was really rantin’ at Big Mac last night.”

I shrug. “Dunno what got into her, either. No idea why she doesn’t like him.” Actually, it’s probably got to do with the arm, but Applejack didn’t call attention to it, and I don’t want to bring up the idea of demonic corruption around kids. “What kinda games do you have?” I reach for a stale-ish cupcake and bit into it. It’s not that old. Still fluffy.

“Well, we’ve got Battleclouds, Risky, even Panopoly!” Clark and I are perfectly synchronized as we face palm in response to the names.

“What? They’re good games!” Noi says, looking indignant. It’s monumentally adorable.

I roll my eyes. “I’m sure they are. Anyhow, got anything like, say, Yahtzee?”

“Uhm... no? I’ve never heard of it before.”

I turn to Clark. “You wanna explain it, or should I?”

“You explain it, I’ve never played much Yahtzee. Also, I just realized... all my dice are gone.”

“Heh, fine.” I begin explaining the dice-centric game of chance and decisions. “I can’t remember how many points you get for some of them though. It has been quite a while. Anyway, it basically goes around until you’ve filled in all the spaces on your scoresheet, then add up your total. The winner is the one with the highest score.”

“So... where are we gonna get dice?” Scootaloo asks. “I mean, we’re not really a unicorn town.”

I stop and stare at her. “Don’t tell me you can’t just go into a game shop and buy them? What’s so special about dice? They’re pretty much cubed rocks with markings on the sides, they can’t be that expensive!”

“No, but they’re super-hard to roll. Not many places without unicorns have ‘em.”

“You can hold a cup, right?”

Scootaloo looks a bit embarrassed. “I’m not so coordinated with my hooves.”

“Well, it’s not that hard. You don’t need magic. Just put the dice in a cup, shake the cup around, and dump the dice out. No magic needed.”

“Oh... well, still, where are we going to get some dice?”

I think for a minute. “I may have an idea.” I summon some coal out of my pouch and form five small cubes. The problem is that I can make the indents, but they aren’t visible. I need some sort of coloring agent or something to mix into the coal. Looking around, I spy some crayons. Perfect, I can just shave the ends off the crayons.

Now, with the colored dots showing up, I put the dice down on the floor of the clubhouse. “And there you go, dice.”

We try the game, the chances leaning towards nobody in particular. Clark is intent on the game, and the little ponies are engrossed in trying to beat him.

I’m not sure if I made the score sheets correctly, but the ones I drew up all look the same, so the possible points are all equal at least. After quite a few games, the score sheets are all filled up except for one slot and it comes down to a tiebreaker for ‘highest score’ between Clark and Scootaloo, both of them beating the rest of us on the last game with 309 points each.

The two end up in a fight-to-the-death of a game, dicing back and forth so hard one of the dice breaks, forcing me to fix it.

Eventually, in a pretty much, coin-toss end, Clark beats Scootaloo by about five points. Scootaloo looks pretty upset. “And that’s why you don’t gamble. You always could win, but you aren’t guaranteed to. There’s nothing to the game but luck and math.”

“Actually, this game is an example why you don’t play dice games with me. It’s all in the wrist to get more than half the dice on the numbers I want.” We all look at Clark, flabbergasted.

I sigh. “Come on man, you can’t fix dice. It doesn’t work like that unless you had mental control of the dice. Granted I do, but clearly I didn’t win a single game, so I couldn’t have been cheating or I’d have trounced you all.”

Clark picks up the dice, says “Three sixes” and rolls three sixes, a four, and a five. “Can’t do it without the cup, though.”

“Th- that’s the second to best ‘Three-of-a-Kind’ possible! You can’t just... call them out and make it happen!” I turn to the girls. “So... does it count as cheating if we can’t tell how he does it?”

“Again, it’s all in the wrists. Watch, three twos, and a five.” He shakes the cup and rolls two sixes, a five, and a pair of twos. “Drat, need to keep it under half.” He gathers up the dice again.

“I think he’s bluffing.”

“I think he’s psychic-y.”

“I think he’s cheating.”

“I think he’s insane.”  Everyone turns to look at me funny. “What?”

“Five sixes!” Clark tosses the dice, and sure enough they come all sixes. “Ha! I got two weeks of bodyguards with this trick once.”

“Bodyguards? But you’re so big! Why would you need bodyguards?” Noi asks, looking up at Clark.

“Because no matter how big you are, everyone tires eventually. And besides, it meant I could do what I wanted for two weeks with a lot fewer challenges for my position.”

“So... uh, Clark, why don’t you... go tour the town?”

“Actually, I’ve already been shown around most of the town. Miss Sparkle has been very kind to me.” The four crusaders look to one another with looks of consternation not-so-well-masked on their faces.

“Well, how ‘bout ya check out tha pond? We’ll keep an eye on Anthony, so ya know he don’t get inta any trouble.”  Applebloom smiles sweetly at him, and he looks blandly down at her. He rolls his eyes.

“Hey!” I shout. “I resemble that remark!”

“No, no, it’s fine. I guess I’ll see you back at the library, then.” He crawls out the door, and begins to gloomily make his way out of the orchard.

Unfortunately, this happens to be terrible timing, and Applejack is just walking onto the small hill the tree-clubhouse grows from. Immediately, Applejack begins laying into Clark verbally, including a few threats.

I get up to leave. “I’ll be right back. This won’t take long, hopefully.” I crawl out of the clubhouse and approach my two friends, one of which is acting very unfriendly. “So, what seems to be the problem?”

“Ah told him to stay offa mah property!” AJ says with a strong vehemence. It’s truly weird, coming from the farm mare, I’ve never seen her act like this towards anything, and she actually swears at weeds.

I decide to correct a few things. “First of all, unless she had an accident or something, I’m sure Granny Smith is still alive, meaning she owns this property, not you. Secondly, he was here on invitation from your sister, the other Crusaders, and me.”

“Ah don’t care about yer fancy wordin’. Granny trusts me to run this farm, and ah say ah don’t want any of his kind here! Iff’n yer gonna be a problem, then y’all can take a hike, too!” AJ is huffing furiously, her snorts stirring the dead leaves on the ground.

“Let me get something straight. You don’t trust my judgment of his character, and apparently, you don’t trust the judgment of a family member. If you don’t trust friends or family, who do you trust Applejack?”

“Ah- Ah trust mahself! He’s decievin’ you, an’ ah know it!” It catches me, after a moment. She thinks he’s a liar. And she’s the Element of Honesty.

I lean down so I’m eye to eye with Applejack. “My mother said the same thing about him countless times. And she was proven wrong every. Single. Time. I love my mom, but when she insulted my friends integrity, I couldn’t care less. Now, you’re not my mom, so I’d have no problems tanning your hide if you don’t quit your prejudiced bullshit.”

Applejack holds my gaze for what feels like forever. Eventually, though, she relents, and turns away. “Fine. But he turns on ya, ya won’t hear me say ‘Ah told ya so’.” Applejack stomps back into her orchard, leaving Clark and I behind.

I sigh and turn to Clark. “A trip to the pond isn’t gonna fix this. Here’s something better.” I hand him a few bits. “Get to town, and get some directions to the Frothy Mug, tell Berry I suggested you see her about a drink.”

With that, I head back to the clubhouse for the ‘special meeting’ with the Crusaders. I get back in, and the four of them look really upset, four pairs of watery eyes turned on me together.

“So, is the secret meeting off then? Or postponed?”

The four of them just crowd around me, giving me a snuggly-warm group hug. Four little fillies cry on me, soaking my t-shirt more or less instantly.

But what was it? Was it Applejack’s threats? My threats? Or the fact that we were arguing? I’m not gonna learn anything by staying silent. “So what’s the matter? Was it something I said?”

“F-friends shouldn’t fight!” Noi says, face buried in my arm. Sweetie nods along.

“Why is big sis bein’ so mean t’ him?” Applebloom asks.

I sigh and shake my head. “I wish I knew. But there’s something you should know about friendship. Sometimes, friends do fight. At one point or another, a mean thing will be said and, though they may mean to be hurtful at the time, and you will argue, you will still be friends. It’s a natural thing for friends to fight or disagree. Applejack just seems to think Clark is a bad man, and I’m trying to get through to her, but she’s making it difficult.”

“But... he seems so nice.” Sweetie says.

“Yeah, and his arm looks so cool! It has a cool-looking eye on it, too.” Scoots pipes in.

I nod. “And Applejack doesn’t see it that way. Applejack thinks he’s not nice for some reason. I suppose our meeting about him doesn’t have anything to do with Applejack hating him, though. Should we get to it now, later, or another day?”

“Uhm, well, I was wanting to make him a Cutie-Mark Crusader, too. I think it’d make him smile.” Noi’s voice is quiet, strained.

“I’m sure it would, and I see no reason for him not to join, except that Applejack is banning him from the area, even though technically she has no say in the matter. If we’re going by laws the way I know them, only Granny Smith can do that.”

“Uhm, ah don’t know. Granny is real old... but Applejack makes most a’the decisions ‘round here. ‘Cept the ones ‘bout the budget. Big Mac handles budget stuff.”

I think this over. “So what if, at some point, we got Clark to meet Granny Smith? If she’s fine with him, then I guess Applejack doesn’t really have much say on the matter of him being banned, now does she? Even if she is in charge, you can’t really fight the titled land owner on who’s banned or not, right?”

“Idunno ‘bout any of that. Granny doesn’t do much, ‘sides be real wise and stuff.” The fillies seem to have been calmed by my judicious application of scritchings. Scootaloo has claimed my lap, alongside Noi, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle tucked next to my sides.

“I just want to know why Applejack doesn’t like him. I mean, he’s been called a liar before and been proven to not have been lying. I hate to say it, but I think AJ just hates him for no reason.”

“But- that’s not fair!” Applebloom and Sweetie both cry out at the same time. I’m glad someone’s on my side on this.

I give a heavy sigh and just explain something that I suppose has to be taught sooner rather than later. “Life isn’t fair. Lots of things will seem unfair, but you just can’t do anything about it. It’s the way life is.”

“But...” Applebloom’s face scrunches up, and she lays her head down on her little hooves. She must really look up to her sister. “But why?” she whispers, more to herself than to me, but I hear it anyways.

“Well, I can’t seem to get her to tell me. Why don’t you ask her?” Granted, the mare didn’t even try to argue when I said she didn’t trust her own family... does she not really, or... That mare is just one big mystery to me.

Sighing once more, I settle in to comfort the fillies for a while longer, Scootaloo poofy and warm on my lap with a noticeably less-poofy Noi.

Clark, my friend. What am I going to do with you? Next Chapter: Chapter 143 Estimated time remaining: 12 Hours, 58 Minutes

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